Dramatic Monologue: Definition, Characteristics and Examples

The Dramatic Monologue is the most important kind of that sub-division of objective poetry which we have called dramatic, which is dramatic not because it is to be acted on the stage, but because it gives the thoughts and emotions not of the poet but of some imagined character. they are monologues because in them only one character speaks throughout (Mono) means ‘one’). The poet’s identity is merged with that of the dramatic personage, and the poet speaks through his mouth, so to say. Robert Browning is the most important writer of dramatic monologues in the English language.

The dramatic monologues may be used for the study of character, of particular mental states and of moral crises in the soul of the characters concerned. In his monologues, the poet Browning depicts an amazingly wide variety of characters, taken from all walks of life, cowards, rogues, artists, scholars, Dukes, cheats, beggars, murderers, and saints like Pippa, all crowd his picture-gallery. His characters belong not to any one country and to a number of countries and ages.

In each monologue, one character is at the centre, and the substance of the monologue consists of what passes within his soul. Cazamian calls them, “soul reflectors”, or “studies in practical psychology”, for they provide us with a peep into the inner working of the mind and soul of these characters. Besides these main figures, in each monologue, there are some minor figures who are briefly but distinctly sketched with a few deft touches. They are the listeners for most of the time, but they also perform the dramatic function of the interlocutor from time to time and thus provide the reason or the cause for the speaker’s mood or his self-analysis. Thus in Andrea Del Sarto, Andrea is the speaker, Lucrezia is the listener, and her lover and the three rival artists are also introduced indirectly. Often the nature background is skilfully interwoven with the mood and temper of the speaker, and in this way, the total effect is heightened. In the poem mentioned-above, the speaker’s references to the Autumnal grey nature-background are used to heighten his own mood of depression and world-weariness.

In each monologue, the speaker is placed in the most momentous or critical situation of his life and the monologue embodies his reactions to his situation.

The monologues have an abrupt, but very arresting opening, and, at the same time, what has gone before is suggested cleverly or brought out through retrospective meditation and reflection. Thus My Last Duchess opens with a reference to the picture of the dead Duchess, with a clear indication that it is being shown to someone. Similarly, this abrupt beginning may be followed by self-introspection on the part of the speaker, and his moods, emotions, reflections, and meditations may be fully expressed. The speaker’s thoughts range freely over the past and the future, and so there is no logical and chronological development. The past and the future are focused on the present and the unity is emotional rather than logical.

Examples of Dramatic Monologue:


The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock by T.S.Eliot

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

Hawk’s Monologue by Ted Hughes